Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My First Four RPGs (Part One)

The decade of the 1970s didn't end that well for me.  We had moved to a po-dunk town in the foothills of the Ozarks, my parents got divorced, and I failed fifth grade.  When we moved back to Houston, I didn't know anybody and was very lonely.  The only thing that really held my interest at the time was my Star Wars action figures and Battlestar Galactica.

One day at school I saw a classmates with a strange book called Deities and Demigods.  He told me it was part of a game and I was fascinated.  I borrowed the book from him and read the cryptic stat blocks of gods and godesses and tried to figure out how the game worked.  Of course, Deities and Demigods had no rules in it, so I figured the game was something like chess, and each character had different moves on a chess board and dice were used to determine which player took a chess piece.  I began writing up the rules for this game of 'God Chess' I had in my head.  Due to the divorce, convincing my mother to by me a game printed in big expensive hardback books seemed an impossibility, so making a game of my own seemed like the reasonable thing to do.  Within a few hours I had sketched out the rules for a miniatures war game with dice - a concept I had never even heard of before.

My dreams were dashed the next day when my classmate gave me a brief overview of how Dungeons and Dragons was played.  Characters - dice with sides that I had never dreamed of - no board - a game you played in your mind.  Okay, well, so much for 'God Chess,' because this Dungeons and Dragons thing sounded a lot more interesting.  He also told me some very good news - I could buy a simple blue softcover book and some dice, and that's all I really needed.  Man, my mother never saw what was coming.  Poor lady.

The guy who introduced the game to me turned out to be pretty much of an ass, so I never played with him.  After my mother shelled out the money for the blue D&D book and some dice, I found another guy in my class who was interested in playing.  The first session we sat in his room and used construction paper to make pointy wizard hats with stars and moons on them.  Then we colored the dice with a crayon, since that was what you had to do back in those days.  The construction paper hats were hot and itchy, so we quickly ditched them.

My friend and I (because by the time you are playing D&D with someone, you must be friends) took turns being the Dungeon Master and we killed each other in horrible ways in dank caverns with various ochre jellies, green slimes, black puddings, and gelatinous cubes.  I'm sure we only used about 7% of the actual rules, but we had a hoot. 

Because of a simple blue book and some funny shaped dice and a friend to play with, the stresses of family disintegration and academic failure eased up a bit.  Of course, Dungeons and Dragons was not some kind of panacea to cure all of my ills, but it let me take a breather.    I have a very warm place in my heart for Gary and Dave and all of those other people who allowed me to forget my worries and actually have time for fun.

- Ark

(An interesting side note - I heard about GEN CON shortly thereafter.  I sooooo wanted to go.  It was a burning dream for a long time, but I could never assemble the staggering amount of money to go, or get an adult to agree to go with me.  I never made it to GEN CON.  However, I did attend my first gaming convention this year - Reaper Con - with my son.  Four days of games and minis - I had a blast.  Maybe I'll make it to GEN CON one day.  Maybe . . . one day . . . )


  1. God Chess! Interesting, do you remember it, or have the rules still? Great story, too. It reminded me of my own intro to the game, by second hand description from a friend who'd played AD&D. Somehow he also convinced me to run the game for him. We had no books, just the funny dice and a vague idea what D&D was all about. We'd invented some rules of our own before we finally got the books, and I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we'd just developed our own rules more and never got the "real" ones.

  2. @Anon - that has got to be the best way to play D&D really - just make it up completely. I'm sure Gary would approve. :)

    I wonder if there is anyone out there who did just that - just kept on chugging along with their rule set. I guess maybe they did - maybe there is there RuneQuest and things like it came from. I just don't know enough about those early games to tell.

    I don't have any surviving record of "God Chess," but I remember a bit about it. It was to be played on a chess board with chess pieces, but each piece would represent a god - and you could pick which pantheon you wanted to play - they came as a set.

    The gods could move in different directions at different speeds. Combat was determined by the dice - but I didn't have that really worked out. Some had to attack in melee, like Ares, but Zeus could go and bitch-slap others across the board with his lightning. Aphrodite could charm her way out of combat, etc.

    I didn't follow through, but yanno, I mighta had something if I did. :)

    - Ark